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What is special category / sensitive personal data?

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Special category personal data (sometimes known as sensitive personal data as this is what it was known as in the Data Protection Act 1998) is personal information which is considered to need more protection in law as it relates to more sensitive or personal matters.

Our article What is personal data? explains in more detail the broader concept of “personal data” within which special category personal data falls.

The UK General Data Protection Regulation defines special category personal data as:

  1. Personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin.
  2. Personal data revealing political opinions.
  3. Personal data revealing religious or philosophical beliefs.
  4. Personal data revealing trade union membership.
  5. Genetic data.
  6. Biometric data (where used for identification purposes).
  7. Data concerning health.
  8. Data concerning a person’s sex life.
  9. Data concerning a person’s sexual orientation.

For example, an employee’s name, address, date of birth and job title is personal data but is not special category personal data. However, a business is likely to hold the following types of information about its employees which is (or could be) special category personal data: gender, medical information, and sickness record. Financial information, for example pay or bonus information, whilst sensitive is not classed as special category personal data.

Also, special category personal data does not include personal data about criminal allegations, proceedings or convictions (including driving offences), as separate provisions apply to that type of personal data, although as you would expect, the law affords a high level of protection to this type of data as well.

Our data protection team have many years of experience in advising organisations on their compliance with UK data protection law. To speak to one of the team you can get in touch here or call us on 0800 2800 421. 

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